I would never say anything as dumb sounding as “music has the power to heal.” Though it may be true, it’s a cliché phrase. In my life aspirin and greasy food seem to have the best healing power to heal me from the booze I had used to heal something else previously. However I will say and stand by the fact that music, no matter the genre, does have a certain endorphin inducing quality, especially when it shows up at the proper time.
For me the proper time is now, roughly 1:00 am after a long day spent making money for the man. I’m indulging in some red wine and sitting in semi-darkness. I hit play on the machine and soft and sad sounds of fiddle and piano lull me into a relaxed state.
The album I am listening to is Waves Rise From Quiet Water by the Scottish duo Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. The song is gentle and melodic instrumental “A Thank You Won’t Pay the Fiddler.” This is followed by the traditional folk balladry of “Sleepless Sailor” which again pairs soft piano melodies with heart wrenching fiddle and male-female vocal pattern that sounds like a lullaby with its “li de dum dee, li de dum day.” The stark and beautiful piano-fiddle folk instrumental returns on “Maureen Fraser’s,” before treating us to just straight slow and wandering piano on “Dornie.”
Just when you get comfortable in this soft and terrifically traditional balladry however Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach take it to a whole new level turning the fiddle driven “The Last Mile” into some odd yet endearing electronic amalgamation of Scottish folk with some Gaelic sounding female vocals. It works however and serves as an out of sync but welcome change-up.
But let’s face it Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach are best when creating sad sounding fiddle and piano ballads and they don’t hold back on the slow rolling, tearjerker “Ristol,” which gives way to the simple yet key-happy and clean piano piece “The Wren No. 2.” The title track “Waves Rise from Quiet Water” quietly closes out the record with its instrumental fiddle and piano framework.
Waves Rise from Quiet Water is a somber record. Its repetition of piano and fiddle seems somehow as repetitive as the breaking of waves. It seems as though that is the point. The pair are not reinventing the wheel here, rather they seem to be showing those who have taken simple things for granted for so long, the beauty these inventions still hold.
Pants On Fire - liar, liar
Pants On Fire is the brainchild and solo project of Evan Shely, a prolific musician who has been a part of several bands and is currently studying at the Berklee College of Music. This past summer, Pants On Fire released Liar, Liar, a full-length, eclectic album that was recorded in a room in Shely’s barn.
The album begins with a slow, ambient electric guitar riff in “Apocrypha III.” Warbling power chords join in just before driving percussion and droning vocals enter the soundscape. Over the course of the song, the energy ebbs and flows, and the give and take makes for a very intriguing listening experience. Slightly more conventional in its style, “Michael Jackson’s Plastic Surgery Lizard” features bluesy chord progressions and crisp vocals that make this track a definite highlight.
The danceable “Pressure Diamond” follows with a dynamic riff that repeats throughout the tune. Layered vocals create a very full sound in this track, a trait that continues in “Lukewarm Summer,” a bright, punching rock anthem with elements of experimental and punk. “Frog-Shaped Oven Mitt” follows with an ominous, grunge-esque opening riff. This song demonstrates Shely’s ability and ease with which he can modulate his voice and sound to fit seamlessly into many different musical styles.
A swaying beat characterizes “Million Dollar Lampshade Lantern” as the song slowly but surely plods along, bolstered by energetic strumming and intense percussion. Reverb-laced vocals add an ambience to the otherwise down-to-earth song. In “Constellation Thief,” the album’s typically hard-hitting energy is toned down into a highly melodic, laid back ballad that gradually builds in volume and complexity until the very end.
After an extremely short and speculative interlude entitled “A Mammoth,” the instrumental “1932” takes listeners on a variable and exciting journey through many distinct sounds and themes before the album’s closer, “Another Song Called Stockholm” concludes Liar, Liar with mostly instrumental tones. Unfettered emotion is portrayed in this track through crashing cymbals, distorted guitars and vague hints of piercing vocals. As a whole, Liar, Liar embodies the psychedelic rock genre with the utmost precision, as well as incorporating techniques and elements from several other genres with effortless skill and talent.
Jay Hemphill is an acoustic singer-songwriter located in Long Beach, California. He has been writing music for roughly four or five years, gaining experience by writing music for other bands in the Long Beach area when he is not working on his own quirky solo projects. He has no intention to perform live as of yet, but hopefully he’ll get a band together in the future. I feel this music would transpose well to a live environment.
His latest EP entitled These Are The Things I Think About Sometimes begins with the stunningly sweet opener “A Song.” Perhaps the title offers nothing in terms of what the song will be about, but that makes it all the sweeter when it reveals itself. In the end, as soothing and mellow an acoustic song as it is, the lyrics take on quite a comedic, witty purpose. Hemphill says he doesn’t want anyone “to connect with me or catch themselves in my verse” because he wants “to sing for better or worse.” This sentiment seems quite light-hearted in intent, as the entire song promises not to change the world.
In fact, Hemphill wonders why the listener is ‘even listening’ because surely we have “better things to do.” Essentially, he narrates every single moment of the track as it’s happening, quipping that he will “change his fill” before increasing the pace of the acoustic guitar. It’s unique, funny and a melodically-pleasant piece of ear candy all at the same time. As if that were not enough, an unexpected electric guitar solo bursts out towards the end of the song above the tempered acoustic guitar in a burst of insanity. It’s definitely like no other music I’ve heard before, if only for the lyrical quirkiness.
“Song of the Sea” maintains the slightly off-the-cuff, serious, sentimental, but not-serious-at-the-same-time style that Hemphill has laid down as a form of brickwork foundation in the opening track. Beautiful, restrained acoustic guitar supports his crooning, straining voice as he sings of the sea in a joyous, but perhaps nostalgic way. Hemphill’s message seems to be less about the message itself and more about the journey to reach it. I get the feeling that we’re not always supposed to know why he’s singing about albatrosses, but simply listen attentively. There’s something infectious about the combination of vocals, sweet and simple melodies and unique lyrics in these tracks. It’s hard to place a finger on until you’ve listened for yourself.
“One Day’ is a song that proves that the effect of recording a track as if it were a live session can work perfectly if you know what you’re doing. He tinkers with a violin, rapidly strums a string of acoustic guitar notes and tops off the whole experience with vocals which reverberate around the walls of the studio. These elements all combine to create an electrifying and intoxicating atmosphere.
Jay Hemphill has created a enjoyable and totally unexpected EP here. As far as acoustic musicians go, he caught me completely off-guard. Sweet melodies coupled with lyrics often humorous if they weren’t simply weirdly unique. The vocals and songwriting ability are on point, but it is that extra spark of something new which makes this artist’s music so refreshing to digest.
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It was just recently that BigTreeBlueLake released Confidential Forces. BigTreeBlueLake also teamed up with a musician known as Shaman for Shaman Goes To Big Tree Blue Lake. Hmmm I guess it’s all in the title, isn’t it?
The EP features four songs and apparently there's a story in there somewhere. Like nearly every release with some kind of narrative I never would have guessed in a million years what this actually was about unless I read it. In this case the vocals are basically indecipherable making the narrative even more marginal. The music is lo-fi just like Confidential Forces and also has experimental tendencies like it as well.
The duo starts off with “Desert” which is a hypnotic song that repeats like a mantra. I really liked the opening guitar riff which starts the loop of sounds. Not much later intersecting vocal harmonies are added to the mix. Like I mentioned earlier I couldn't make out what they were saying but it was catchy. Subtle elements enter into the mix along with distinctly different sounding vocals. This isn’t exactly a dynamic song by any stretch of the imagination. No catchy chorus, not much of a change at all really. The song has more in common with something you would hear from a ambient artist than an indie rock band.
“Ice/Fire” is a different animal all together. The song is sprawling is some ways. I don’t think (I hope) these guys weren’t taking themselves too seriously on this track. Its hyperbolic scripts which feels like something from a fantasy movie felt silly and over exaggerated. It’s almost felt like they were poking fun at concepts they were trying to deliver. The song starts with reverb-laced guitar and a unique vocal delivery. The song felt off-kilter in a good way. It was almost similar to something you would hear from Ariel Pink. The song cleverly transitions into a sustained vocal section. This is where the song just goes off the rails. They talk back and forth as if they are in an improv troupe trying to deliver lines about Lord of The Rings. After a while the song just sort of dissipates.
“The Lake” is a minute-and-a half bubbly ambient piece. Not too much to say here. They close with “Death (Shaman Goes To Big Tree Blue Lake)” which really doesn’t have many changes. It’s a long five-minute piece of white noise and maybe horns. I couldn’t really tell. It’s very dreamlike and is constantly floating away.
Shaman Goes To Big Tree Blue Lake is a release that would have benefited with a step up in recording quality. The ability to distinguish the vocals would have created a more immersive experience. I also think some clarity on the ambient pieces would have helped.
Shaman Goes To Big Tree Blue Lake is far from perfect but there are some things that worked well. I thought the EP was cohesive and I appreciated the experimentation. There were also some catchy vocal melodies especially on the first track.
I was thinking by the end that maybe they should just make a video to accompany this music if they really want to play up the narrative. I’d be into that. Food for thought
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Mad Passenger is a recently formed alternative rock band, based on the songwriting of the trio’s lead singer Ian Arieta. In August of 2016, Mad Passenger released Goes Around Comes Around, the band’s first EP that was recorded in a one-bedroom apartment. Through harmonies, guitar, and vocals, Mad Passenger is poised to dramatically expand their audience through this album.
The record starts with the aptly named “Start Out Kids,” a lively tune led by an energetic acoustic guitar and a throbbing bass guitar that provides a solid foundation for Arieta to sing over. Arieta’s melodic, mellow voice is accompanied by layered vocal harmonies and riffs, and the minimalistic song slowly builds in dynamic intensity as electric guitar and steel guitar join the soundscape about halfway through the song. After this, the track slowly winds down, making for a very balanced and sensical song structure.
“Lines From a Show” continues in the same folk-tinged acoustic alternative rock vein as the album’s opener. Highly figurative and thought-provoking lyrics carry the weight of the song’s appeal, and towards the end of the song, an ambient droning synthesizer chord adds a novel facet to the otherwise mostly acoustic soundscape. Overall, this song is subdued and subtle, but there is just enough rhythm and variety to maintain the listener’s full attention.
The final song on this record is the EP’s title track, the first song to feature piano playing. Swelling steel guitars, steady guitar strumming and melodic vocals that reach high into Arieta’s range converge into a cohesive, compelling song that finishes the album off with a polished, articulate poem-like song that will last in the listener’s mind long after the final note is played.
As a whole, Goes Around Comes Around showcases Mad Passenger’s natural ability to write, perform and record music successfully, and the high quality that was achieved in just three songs is more than indicative of the potential the band has and will build upon in the years to come.
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Lizard - The Voicemail of Cthulhu
Lizard aka Michael Cheney is a college student who is just getting into music production. He has been experimenting with LMMS for about a year. On his release The Voicemail of Cthulhu he implements lo-fi sounding guitar with virtual instruments into instrumental songs.
In this day and age production has gotten so easy to do with DAWs that you really have to be ahead of the curve to get noticed. Cheney is still in the early stages of his development and isn't yet competitive with the production of an artist like Nicolas Jarr or Arca but has some potential.
The music is percussive heavy but rarely feels like there is much kinetic energy. I would say the drums often feel separated from the other elements. This album is long. A little too long to sit through in one session. Cheney falls victim to the common mistake for novice musicians by putting out a surplus of music instead of leaning towards brevity and releasing your strongest material.
On that note there are some cool ideas on the album and after spending some time with this album he could have easily made this album two or three sprawling tracks. He utilizes a very similar palette of sounds for each track and the songs bleed into each other.
“Under the Pine Needles” opens with subharmonic bass. He quickly implements a move that he utilizes throughout the album which is suddenly switching up elements. The guitar is introduced which is scattered throughout the album. Up next is “Secret Information” where he utilizes the same techniques of introducing sounds without warning.
Other songs like “Hammer” sound frantic while “The Terror of Toon Town” sounds like the title. Cheney does have some talent but I have some advice. Even instrumental experimental-like music such as Amon Tobin, Andy Stott and Arca find a way to tug at your emotional strings. There just isn't much emotional resonance to these songs. It reminded me of Jon Cage to some extent however Cheney’s music is in fact too musical to just be “sounds that exist.” In this case I think finding a way to bridge the emotional gap would behoove him.
This is a decent start for someone who has been playing for as little as he has. He still has a good way to go but there is potential here.
Ensyn - Ensyn
The band Ensyn grew out of a parting of the ways for three of the band members who left The Riverside Coalition to start a project going in a slightly different direction. Band members Drew Kellum, Iris Kolodji and Erik Schee added upright bass player Matt McIntrye to round out Ensyn. The result of this foursome is the self-titled album Ensyn released in August.
The five-track album tells a story that seems autobiographical for these four members of the University of Minnesota School of Music students. The tracks, which are numbered and not titled, follow the main character through the trials and tribulations of being pressured, students and newly in love. The story is pretty easy to relate to for most college-aged students as this is a time for exploring and finding your way.
The first track is slower to start but dives deep into the story. It has a folk feel to it with a nod to the band's other influences that make it very much an easy listening piece. You catch a bit of a jazz feel at times as well; this type of piece would be well suited for a live performance in a smaller venue. While I enjoyed the vocals and felt almost soothed by them, the addition of some ill-placed chimes broke up the flow of the music.
The second track continues the story of academic struggles as well as the romantic unrest. The story told by the lyrics and the feeling behind the vocals made this track a nice continuation and easy to identify with. This song moved a bit faster than the first, and would possibly stand alone as a song that would be pretty easy to sing along to.
"III" elegantly combines vibraphone into the mix of guitar, upright bass, drums and vocals. The song has a soothing, serene vibe that is easy to enjoy. "V" is the longest song at five plus minutes and an exceptional way to end the album. There are some notable vocal harmonies on this song.
The lyrical story of the album left me wanting to hear more from the group and see where this story ends up. The band is currently on hiatus as their lead singer Kolodji teaches abroad. I suspect this experience will lend itself to the next installment of the story. It seems like a logical continuation of this journey through college and young adulthood.
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Triple Double Band - Cinco de Macho
I have found that one of the best ways to properly gauge a band’s sound is through attempting to evaluate their method(s) of songwriting. This process includes trying to decipher whether the artist shoots for a very specific, narrow sound or, on the contrary, whether the process is more democratic, meaning that each member has just as much say in the creative process as the rest. When this happens the outcome is typically rich with diversity, as everyone is different and everyone has different sources of inspiration.
Triple Double Band, a five-piece group based out of Tucson, Arizona, certainly fits in with the latter, as they exhibit a plethora of styles and genres in their newest album titled Cinco de Macho. Each song reeks of positivity and silver-lining, and does so in a multitude of ways, using a conglomeration of methods and approaches that ultimately result in an enjoyable, straightforward, collection of music.
The music found within Cinco De Macho, although diverse, is very accessible. Whether it be the lyrics, which range from topics of love to living on the beach, or the instrumentation, which includes guitars, horn instruments, as well as some bowed strings, the music is very easy to follow and experience.
This accessibility certainly does provide its listeners with the “colorful sound with a positive message for humanity” that the band states they attempt to convey. The music is certainly pretty, and is produced very, very well. The vocals sound pristine, which allows for the vocal harmonies Triple Double Band utilize to be executed to their fullest potential, and the overall sound quality is very solid, highlighting the focal points of each song very well.
My biggest complaint with Cinco De Macho is that it’s nothing new. This type of thing has been done before several times in several different ways. Now, don’t get me wrong; Triple Double Band does this sound very well. However, there is a lot of music that sounds a lot like the songs found within Cinco De Macho, and Triple Double Band is going to have a pretty rough time establishing themselves in the overly-saturated market that is positive, cheerful pop-rock. The melodies and chord progressions sound very familiar and recycled, but at the same time present themselves extremely well, so take my complaint as you will.
In the future, I would like to see Triple Double Band go in a more distinct direction that I am sure they are capable of. However, if making jolly sounding pop-rock is what they love doing, and it is their goal to put out solid albums under this cloak, then they are certainly doing the right thing. If you’re feeling down, then Cinco De Macho may be what you need.
Lucius and Milo - Helicon
Lucius and Milo were born out of the creative student body at the University of Exeter with their initial album Helicon releasing on 7/22/2016. With only ten months as a band under their belt before recording their album, this foursome made considerable headway in establishing themselves as an up and coming band.
Two members of the band, Charles Pelham-Lane and Davide Scarpignato, were responsible for the majority of the songwriting of the five original songs on the album as well as most of the vocals. Each of the four members plays an instrument with Pelham-Lane on the keyboards, Scarpignato on guitar, Theo Stone on bass and Dom Ford on drums. With the songs mostly already written the band often comes together to draw inspiration from each other to fill in the gaps with a chorus or other missing piece of the finished product.
While they self describe their style as being modern alternative rock, their sound is much more classic rock than one might expect. There are times they seem to try to add a modern spin to the vocals but it can fall flat with too much of a falsetto. I found myself searching for portions of the album where they relaxed and dropped the falsetto for a more soulful sound.
The first song “Streets of London” had an authentic feel to it. The music was solid and classic with a well toned vocal. You could almost see the band walking the streets of London on a drizzling afternoon to this pure set of lyrics. The vocals were complemented by the guitar solos and keyboards alike.
The next song in line is “The Harvest” that slows down the pace of the album and lends a gentle transition. This song sounds like something you may hear in a coffee shop on a campus somewhere, a good song but not much to set it apart. The change in vocals left this song not as strong as the opening of the album.
“Ailinon" was the third song and this is where the falsetto really settles in. This was my least favorite song of the album and I found the falsetto forced and distracting. It was a stylistic risk that fell short in this song. At the midway point the instruments and vocals found a better balance that helped to at least partially save the song. The instrumental parts of this song were a much needed break from the vocals.
Coming in fourth on the album, “Muse” was a change of pace. The vocals returned to a less forced tone with a relaxed pace. This particular song reminded me of many of the grunge bands that made up the Seattle sound with a little less passion. The newness of the band may be showing at this point as there is a bit of feeling or passion missing from this song.
Rounding out the mix was “Pulse,” which was a great first attempt at a party anthem of sorts but it’s just not there yet. The addition of the echoed vocals in the form of all band members yelling took the song in a direction they may not have wanted to go. With their roots in a “Battle of the Bands” type competition, this song fit that bill. It would be great for live audience participation but I am not sure if it’s ready for wider play.
The inexperience of the band came through several times throughout this album, but so did their raw energy and underlying talents. If this is what a mere ten months brings out, I look forward with hope for their next efforts.
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Givan Lötz - MAW
I was home this past weekend to visit my mother, a retired single woman who has had her own ups and downs in her career as a person. She isn’t musical, she isn’t artistic, but she has a sly wit and doesn’t take shit from anyone. In fact as we talked for a bit in her living room and I fed treats to her dog, a schnauzer who is very protective of her and would have ripped my arm off had my mother not given the dog the look that says “it’s okay if he gives me a hug goodbye” and we talked about my life and the neighborhood where I live.
Somehow the homeless people who live beneath the underpass not far from my apartment entered the conversation and my mother said, “oh that’s so sad.” And it is sad. But it’s also a fact of life. I think about it when I get sad. I’m of the type that tries to put things in perspective. A lot of people have it bad and a lot of people have it worse. So where does it end?
I often wonder then, being me, what kind of art these people who live under the underpass would make. Art comes from one’s surroundings. What would they paint if they could? What would they sing about I wonder?
Half a world away from here, in South Africa, lives the Johannesburg musician and visual artist Givan Lötz. His music is ethereal and dark. It at once feels depressing, beautiful and lethargic. It also sounds a lot like the Duluth slowcore band Low, a band I have been a fan of going on twenty years now. The associations for me began with the slow and sludgy “Speak” the second track from Lötz’s third record MAW. He opens the song with soft picked guitar and soon after his reverb laced emerge. There is a stillness and stoic quality to the song. The song eventually picks up energy but almost feels exhausted in a some way.
These similarities continue on the hauntingly slow and melodic piano and dark effects of “The Last One.” “The Last One” contains a more upbeat and catchy vocal melody. Next comes the equally ethereal and hauntingly sad “Shame.” "Speak" melds white noise with pads as his vocals peak through the top.
Things get a little more experimental on the guitar and synthetically gauzy “Tender,” which is followed by the equally ambient “The Wind.” There comes a little more distinction on “Sea,” but not very much. “Sea,” is depressingly Gregorian and gets a lift from a bit of ‘80s inspired Cure. He closes with a sprawling and slow song entitled "Watchtower"
From the viewpoint of a guy who likes low-fi and haunting melodies I can see what Lötz is trying to do. That being said there isn't much emotional diversity to MAW. Each track rings with a somber vibe. You definitely have to be in a certain kind of mood to fully appreciate MAW for what it is.
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